Posts Tagged ‘Lakers’

The rights of this post belong to the Los Angeles Lakers and was first published in the Lakers Insider February 2011

From Brentwood to Brentwood
By: Josh Tucker

Mitch Kupchak moves through the NBA like a phantom. In fact, little is known outside of LakerLand about the General Manager of one of the most storied franchises in professional sports. In 2000, the Lakers asked Mitch Kupchak to fill the shoes of “The Logo,” Jerry West, and he has done so with ease. Sure, he has had his fair share of criticism, but all Kupchak does is win.

He is humble and unassuming; in fact he even put a disclaimer on this interview. MItch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Dr. Buss“I’m not a great interview so don’t get your hopes up,” Kupchak said. His seat during Lakers home games is not in camera view behind the Lakers bench or in an executive suite, but instead is out of the Hollywood spotlight.

Kupchak epitomizes an organization that, from the top down, trusts and believes in each other and themselves. “I have immense support from Jim Buss and Jerry Buss. I have always felt that they are looking out for me, and they have always felt I am looking out for them, in terms of what is best for the organization,” said Kupchak. “I think between the three of us, our decisions are based primarily on ‘What can we do to help this team win?'”

It requires collaboration, but even more so unity to sustain a winning franchise. “I never feel alone and always feel there are three of us on the same page making decisions.” Kupchak believes part of being able to maintain the Lakers status as a perennial powerhouse has been the Lakers’ “energy” in the head coach position. “We have an incredibly qualified coach that’s out front. It’s tough to question Phil Jackson.”

Kupchak is quick to assign praise to his predecessor Jerry West — who will be honored with a statue outside of STAPLES Center during All-Star weekend later this month.

“It was an incredible advantage and experience for me because I got to work with him for 14 years. I’m very thankful to have had him as my mentor and he’s been Jerry West and Mitch  Kupchakridiculously supportive. To this day he continues to be a resource to the organization.”

“We’ve been pretty lucky to have had a guy like that at the helm, and then after he leaves to continue to be an elite team. If it didn’t turn out that way I’m sure I would have taken a lot of heat, because it is tough to follow a guy like that – like it is to follow a guy like Dean Smith or John Wooden.”

Sometimes success takes a little luck. “We’re qualified but you do need a little bit of gold dust now and then,” said Kupchak. While Kupchak implies a hint of purple and gold dust gilds STAPLES Center, he has become the Frank Gehry of basketball. Kupchak has meticulously engineered four NBA Championships since West handed over the reins after winning the 2000 NBA Championship. Sure, Jerry West left a solid foundation in the early 2000’s but Kupchak is responsible for assembling the pieces that have led to this current quest for a three-peat.

Kupchak’s tenure as Lakers General Manager is not without blemish and he is the first to remind you that it has not always been sunny in Los Angeles. “When you’re winning it’s tough to be overly criticized. We had a couple of rough years here. I wouldn’t exactly say I was under the radar, in fact, I was right out on the firing range,” said Kupchak.

“I know [Dr. Buss and Jim Buss] trust me and support me, but I would hope the public and the media have some more trust now than they did ten years ago. I’m no longer the new guy, and certainly winning and the performance of the organization has a lot to do with it.”

The opening chapter to Kupchak’s Lakers career began as a player almost 30 Derek Fisher and Mitch Kupchakyears ago in 1981. Despite a career plagued by injury, Kupchak was able to win three championships as a player – two as a Laker. Thirty years later, Kupchak still remains a true fan.

“There’s no feeling to match the feeling after Game 7 last year. To say that I sat there and enjoyed sitting and watching seven games of that series wouldn’t be true at all. I wish there was a way you could go hide somewhere and after ten days someone says, ‘Guess what? You won the thing,’ but you can’t, you have to sit there and watch.”

“Believe me, they’re painstaking games. Our fans in L.A. are on the edge of their seat, they’re going crazy, and so you can imagine what it feels like for someone who works for the organization.”

Kupchak was born in Brentwood, Long Island, New York and now resides in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. He admits that other than a name the two cities have essentially nothing in common. He finds humor in the fact that he graduated from Brentwood High School and eventually his two children will graduate from a very different Brentwood High School.

As our interview came to an end the legendary Bill Sharman – one of only three people to be inducted into the NBA Hall-of-Fame as a player and coach – walked into Kupchak’s office, which overlooks the Lakers practice court. The immortal Sharman walked over, shook my hand and asked, “Do you know this guy?” in reference to Kupchak. I know one thing for sure, whether it be Brentwood, NY or Brentwood, CA, Mitch Kupchak has definitely found a home.


By Josh Tucker

What does it take in the offseason in order to complete a three-peat? For any other organization, coaching staff or team this would be a unique experience, but Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher have been here before. In fact, this is the fourth time that Phil Jackson will attempt this implausible “three-feat” and whenever Phil Jackson wins two championships he unequivocally turns it into three. They have grown accustomed to short offseasons after playing well into June for three consecutive seasons. Long seasons with a short recovery period can place a lot of wear and tear on athletes’ bodies. Naturally, the importance of physical fitness in the offseason is paramount to this Lakers team’s chances of three-peating.

Some Lakers spent this summer touring the world. Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum took time to heal from a grueling post season by watching the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Over in Europe, Pau Gasol acted as an ambassador for UNICEF and Lamar Odom played a pivotal role in the US national team’s Gold medal win in Turkey. To manage the truncated offseason, Lakers forward Ron Artest was in the gym early and often.

Artest, former Defensive Player of the Year, said he balanced weeks where he rested with weeks where he was going to the gym four times a day. “You need to rest but still push yourself during the summer. I work harder and prepare my body for physical activity even tougher than an NBA game,” said Artest. Artest is the Renaissance man of fitness, partaking in yoga, swimming, weightlifting, and running. “I couldn’t take as many trips this offseason. I had to refocus sooner,” said Artest when asked about the sacrifices of getting back into shape.

Balancing rest and relaxation with focus and fitness was a sentiment echoed by other Lakers. Shannon Brown, who re-signed with the back-to-back champions this offseason sounds like a seasoned veteran.

“I let my body rest a little bit. I was lifting weights, but nothing with a basketball. I always focus on basketball, and on the task at hand. I don’t let too many outside influences get involved in what I’m trying to do on the basketball court. I’m a little bit older, a little bit smarter, a little bit wiser, not only in life but in the game of basketball. I’m trying to tune in to what is really going on, on the court.”

With the quiet additions of rookies Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, and free agent signings Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers have revamped their roster and are focused on the season ahead.

The rookies are also dedicated to making an immediate impact this year. They aim to contribute whether it is minutes in games or hustle in practice. Rookie forward, Caracter, said that he changed his college lifestyle to prepare for the NBA.

“I’m grinding, working, working. I got with a nutritionist and cut down on what I was eating and dropped my college diet,” Caracter said. “I’m eating more efficient meals and found out through different research the proper way to train. I’m doing sprints instead of longer runs. Shorter, harder, and increasing the intensity of my workouts. It is a whole different type of conditioning to get ready for this level; physically and mentally preparing for the new situation, while keeping my confidence up. I’m leaner and meaner than ever before.”

Caracter has already cut down from almost 315 pounds to around 270. Devin Ebanks shared a similar sentiment.

“I’m doing a lot of running, calisthenics, and ab workouts, along with eating right,” Ebanks said. “I’m eating a lot of pastas and potatoes, and have cut down on fast foods. The coaches have me trying to keep my body fat count down.”

Ebanks, who turns 21 at the end of this month, has great admiration for the Lakers veterans.

“It’s amazing how they keep their work ethic. They are in their early 30s, yet continue to work. The way they still work and the drive they have keeps me motivated.”

Steve Blake and Matt Barnes find themselves in new colors, and in new cities, but neither have found the transition to be too difficult. Blake, whose last championship came with the University of Maryland Terrapins in 2002, spent the summer doing a variety of workouts. “I worked as hard this summer as I have always worked. I started my mornings in the weight room doing plyometrics. Then I would take a break, eat lunch then get back to basketball; two-a-days pretty much every day.”

Blake said it has not taken him long to adapt the triangle offense or Los Angeles lifestyle.

“It has been a pretty smooth transition. I appreciate the focus on the team and the offense rather than individual skills,” he said.

Matt Barnes, who is notorious for his passion, saw his 2009-2010 season extend longer than ever before. “I went to the Eastern Conference Finals [with the Magic] last year, which went to the end of May. This year I took a little more time off to let my body heal. In years past I got to work a little sooner. I’m thrilled to be part of great team that has won two championships in a row, so I’m just trying to fit in.”

While Pat Riley patented the term three-peat, Phil Jackson owns it. This year the Lakers embark on a journey to make history and reclaim their title with a rejuvenated roster and a focus on fitness.